Gary Doer: A story
Gary Doer, class act to the end, is stepping down on his own terms and I'll be writing about him in our paper tomorrow.
But in the meantime, I thought I'd give you a bit more of a personal glimpse into this remarkable politician, who never forget he was a real person.
I met him back in 1989, right after he'd taken over the leadership of the Manitoba NDP and the party had been reduced to third-party status in the Legislature. He'd breezed into town for a meeting of the federal NDP -- the same weekend as the Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner. My date for the dinner (Senator Al Graham, I think) had cancelled at the last minute and Doer wanted to attend. So it was kind of like a political blind date. He was charming -- he knew more people there than I did, and had friends from every political party. He was even on good terms with the Mulroneys.
Throughout the Meech Lake constitutional drama of the subsequent year, Manitoba figured largely in the negotiations, and Doer was a big part of the action because of the minority government situation. I think for a couple of months there, I talked to him every day.
Over the next decade, he eventually became premier, while I left The Globe and Mail and spent a couple of years in freelance obscurity. In October, 2000, though, I ran into him at Pierre Trudeau's funeral in Montreal and told him I was planning to be in Winnipeg later that month (for what, I can't remember.) Doer told me: "You'll call when you're in town, eh?" I laughed, said sure, I always call premiers when I'm travelling and filed it away as an amusing courtesy.
But sure enough, when I landed in Winnipeg on a Friday afternoon a few weeks later, I turned on my cell phone and had a message. It was from the premier's assistant, and she said Doer wanted to know: wasn't I supposed to be in town? And wasn't I supposed to call? (Keep in mind, I was not working for any newspaper at this time, had no reason to write about Manitoba, and there was nothing in the way of positive coverage I could offer Doer.)
I got to my hotel and within a few minutes, Doer himself called and chided me for not checking in with him when I got to town. He said he'd be at the hotel lobby within the half hour, and sure enough, he strolled in and spent an hour or so with me and my husband, just chatting and catching up before he attended a Blue Bombers' game.
I've since learned that Doer is like this with all sorts of people; he never forgets his old friends (or their travel plans, it seems) and he never let his ego get all puffed up with power. That's pretty rare in politics and explains why you're seeing adjectives such as "well-liked" and "long-serving" next to his legacy.